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Theodore Roosevelt and the Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic occupies the eastern two thirds of the island of Hispaniola, located in the Caribbean east of Jamaica and Cuba. The nation has a stormy political and economic history and was once described as a “tyranny tempered by assassination.” By 1904, Dominican indebtedness to other nations, primarily European, amounted to more than $32 million. Payments were slow or nonexistent and the possibility of armed intervention loomed. In the spring of 1904, and again in his annual address to Congress in December, President Theodore Roosevelt enunciated a policy that would later be termed the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. He stated that European powers would not be allowed to collect by force debts owed them by Latin American nations. Roosevelt did not really fear European intentions, except perhaps Germany's. He actually focused on the root cause of the difficulties—corrupt or irresponsible governments in the Americas. Under this extension of the Monroe Doctrine, the United States exerted an international police power to enforce order in Latin America. The Dominican Republic, under behind-the-scenes diplomatic pressure, requested that the United States intervene to put the island's financial house in order. Under terms of an executive order of January 1905, the United States announced that it would:

  • guarantee the territorial integrity of the Dominican Republic
  • assume responsibility for customs house collections, using 55% of receipts to pay outstanding obligations and turning over the remainder for governmental purposes.
The Senate, still smarting from the president’s handling of Panamanian events, reacted angrily when it learned of Roosevelt’s end run around their constitutional responsibility. Somewhat chastened, the administration reworked the agreement in the form of a treaty and watered down the provision in which the U.S. guaranteed Dominican territorial integrity — the latter appeared to the Senate to be a blank check. Despite these concessions, the Senate failed to muster the necessary two-thirds vote for ratification. Roosevelt with typical vigor simply ordered American officials to begin duty collection activities, exercising a diplomatic tool known as a modus vivendi. Secretary of State Elihu Root began protracted negotiations with Dominican officials to secure a new treaty. That aim was eventually accomplished and gained Senate approval in February 1907. Under the new treaty’s terms, the United States was to continue its receivership of customs duties and was to approve any future changes in those collections. This initial implementation of the Roosevelt Corollary would establish a pattern of intervention in areas that guarded the approaches to the Panama Canal. The policy was at first ignored by other Latin American nations, but generated much resentment when U.S. incursions were subsequently launched into Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic (again) and Haiti.
See other foreign affairs issues under Theodore Roosevelt.